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Rest home complaints reveal staff shortages, alleged neglect

Nicholas Jones, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 1 Apr 2023, 12:43PM
Photo / File
Photo / File

Rest home complaints reveal staff shortages, alleged neglect

Nicholas Jones, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 1 Apr 2023, 12:43PM

Investigations have uncovered staff shortages in aged care homes, residents left soiled and facility problems, including no hot water for showers.

The details of complaint findings, obtained by the Weekend Herald, include elderly residents at one facility being woken at 4am to be cleaned and changed, allegedly because of a lack of workers.

Tell us about your aged care experience - email the reporter at [email protected].

There have been 12 rest home complaints fully or partially substantiated, information released by the Ministry of Health under the Official Information Act shows.

That’s a small fraction of the country’s 650 aged care facilities.

However, problems are more widespread - a web of organisations are involved in the oversight of aged care, meaning the ministry isn’t notified of all complaint findings.

In the past 12 months, aged care homes have themselves made thousands of separate ‘Section 31′ notifications, warning staffing levels are too low to ensure the safety of residents.

The sector is short around 1200 nurses, and some homes struggling to fill shifts have stopped admissions or even shut down completely - last year, there were 1260 bed closures across more than 20 facilities.

“Staff shortages across the sector have impacted care outcomes for older New Zealanders,” said Simon Wallace, chief executive of the Aged Care Association, which represents most facility owners.

That crisis was leading to “bed block” in public hospitals, Wallace said, because older people who would normally be discharged into aged care were finding no beds available.

“This is causing overflow in acute wards and emergency departments.”

The ministry declined to release the full findings of complaints made since January 1, 2022, and instead gave a brief summary of each investigation.

Six facilities were found to have inadequate staffing.

Investigators acting on a July 2022 complaint about Bethany Hill Dementia Care, a 30-bed facility in Whangateau, Northland, between Matakana and Leigh, confirmed a lack of staff and the fact there was no full-time cleaner.

Simon Wallace of the Aged Care Association: "Staff shortages across the sector have impacted care."

Simon Wallace of the Aged Care Association: "Staff shortages across the sector have impacted care."

In the same month, a complaint was made about Parklands Hospital, part of a Christchurch aged care home run by Bupa, one of the country’s largest operators.

According to the ministry’s summary, this regarded “concerns about staffing levels and shortages impacting residents’ care (residents are being woken at 4am to start morning cares, continence management - delay in changing continence pads)”.

Residents were being woken early for morning cares, an investigation confirmed. The concerns about continence management weren’t substantiated.

(A Bupa spokesperson said the early wake-up was a “one-off miscommunication”, and “support and education has since been provided to staff to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”)

In June last year, a complaint was made about Ranfurly Residential Care Centre, which is in Feilding, Manawatū and provides medical, geriatric, rest home and dementia care.

According to the ministry, the complaint related to “concerns about heating issues (no heating, cold showers), poor Covid-19 infection control practices (entry/screening, management of positive cases in the facility and spread), lack of care (resident left soiled, resident found on the floor, deterioration of health during lockdown)”.

The ministry said the complaint was substantiated. However, a spokesperson for the facility said “not all elements” of the complaint were fully substantiated or able to be verified.

Nonetheless, Ranfurly Manor had apologised to the complainant, completed a review and made changes “over and above those recommended to improve communication and reporting and ensure the best possible patient care”. The facility was recently re-certified by the ministry for four years, the spokesperson said, showing it had met and exceeded service standards.

Another substantiated complaint was lodged in May 2022, after a physical altercation between two residents with “significant cognitive decline” at Bruce McLaren Village, in Howick.

One resident suffered bruising. An apology was given to the resident’s family and a corrective action plan was made with Counties Manukau Health.

“[This] included some additional staff training around managing behavioural incidents involving residents with severe cognitive decline, better management of medications and communication with family and with GPs on admission,” a Ryman Healthcare spokesperson said.

Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The workforce crisis in aged care has led to recent Government action, including funding $200 million a year for pay parity between aged care nurses and those working in public hospitals, who have earned significantly more.

Wallace said the pay parity funding isn’t enough, and a pay gap remains.

“Aged care nurses are still being poached by Te Whatu Ora to work in public hospitals for better pay. The disparity is due to several factors, including that aged care is not being funded for penal or overtime rates.”

However, Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall said the pay parity funding would mean over 8000 community nurses get base pay rises of up to 15 per cent, beginning over the next month.

“Most will now receive base wages at about 95 per cent of hospital-based colleagues,” Verrall said.

“The Government is committed to ensuring nurses are paid fairly and will receive parity with others doing the same or similar work, especially given the current cost of living pressure faced by workers and their families. This is a substantial step towards that.”

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